This is a shameless glass half full view on winter, but I don’t think we can be blamed at this point for trying to find a glass half full of anything that isn’t frozen.
So let’s forget about those frozen pipes, the mornings of shoveling and scraping, dry skin and wet feet, bad roads and worse parking spots. Let us instead focus on the glorious bounties of spring, and how this unforgiving winter may actually make our spring and summer that much more enjoyable and green.
Consider a few of these “silver linings” after spending your March break shoveling…UGH!
Fewer pests and mosquitoes. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authorities and Grand River Conservation Authority have done studies showing summer mosquito populations being cut back due to larvae not surviving colder than normal winter temperatures. Sustained cold will not wipe out pests completely but it will kill some of the larvae and this results in a slower “start” to their breeding season.
Extremely cold winters (and yes, this winter qualifies) can decelerate the spread of invasive species such as the Gypsy Moth, Emerald Ash Borer or the Dutch Elm disease carrying European Beetle. These species have become household names through their systematic destruction of beloved native tree species. The threat and prevalence of these insects is so dramatic that urban street tree planting programs no longer include any of these tree species in their planting repertoire. A cold winter will reduce the Borer population and give remaining young trees of these species a very necessary head start in maturing to their full growth potential.
A winter with a heavy of snowfall helps replenish water levels in wetlands, lakes and streams. High snow levels keep erosion in check along the banks of our water systems throughout the winter. This is especially important in sensitive new waterways that have been constructed through environmental restoration projects. Replenished groundwater is a boon for fields and agriculture throughout the entire growing season and decreases our reliance on irrigation systems. The water levels in the Great Lakes have been dwindling in the last decade, but because of this years record snowfall, these large freshwater sources are expected to rise by as much as 2 feet in the coming months. That is an incredible amount of fresh water when you consider the vastness of the great lakes.
Dry basements in urban areas. A long, cold winter that seems to drag on forever and fade slowly into spring is a good thing, since stormwater infrastructure can be overwhelmed by a quick snow melt, which can cause flooding. You can witness first hand the power of snow melt by watching the rising water levels of stormwater management ponds in new developments or the raging streams and rivers in the countryside. We have already endured a great deal of weather related expense, now we need a slow and drawn out spring to reduce the risk of floods, wet basements and more insurance claims.
Economically, there can be a wide range of benefit in experiencing a Canadian winter of a bygone era. Tourism is increased through a prolonged winter ski and recreation season, and a greener spring means greener golf courses. Biting cold weather now could spell a cooler spring ahead, which is great for food crops as buds will emerge later and be less likely to wither under a killing frost, creating higher yields. Hot house farming through the winter is less expensive and comes with a smaller environmental footprint because of the insulating qualities of snow on greenhouse roof tops. Higher water levels in the Great Lakes means ships can make fewer trips by carrying more cargo. This reduces transportation costs and environmental impact, and in theory these reduced costs should be relayed to the customer.
The animal world benefits too. When animals are prematurely triggered out of hibernation because of warm temperatures, they awake to find very little food and often do not survive the rest of the winter. Native plants and animals in Canada have evolved over thousands of years to endure our climate and all these creatures invoke coping mechanisms to deal with winter. The long winters may be maddening for us, but it is what the rest of the natural world is expecting and prepared for. Thick ice on our lakes provide fish eggs with extra protection from natural predators and will give natural freshwater species a much needed population boost and help create a more bountiful fishing season.
With winter perhaps slowly fading out of view in our rearview mirror, I am choosing to keep my glass half full with some of these ideas. It’s hard to get really excited about thick ice and erosion control but winter comes every year anyway and maybe, just maybe, it’s better to endure a little bit of extra shoveling and an extra tick on the thermostat to know that our seasons are cycling like they were meant too. Our lakes and streams will be healthy and full of life and that spring bloom will be more spectacular than ever. Or maybe my brain is just frozen.